The topic du jour today seems to be the transition that some major news media outlets are making towards using the words “civil war” in describing conditions in Iraq:
WASHINGTON — NBC’s “Today Show” host Matt Lauer yesterday told millions of American television viewers, many sitting at their breakfast tables, that the network would buck the White House and from now on describe the Iraq war as a “civil war.”
The new policy, which NBC News said would cover all its news shows, could become a benchmark in public opinion about the war, according to media specialists.
Some media analysts compared it to CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite’s declaration in 1968 that the United States was losing the Vietnam War — a pronouncement now considered a turning point in public opinion — and Ted Koppel’s ABC updates on the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and 1980 that infuriated Jimmy Carter’s White House.
“How you frame a problem frames what the public thinks is the right thing to do,” said James Steinberg , dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. “If Iraq is a democracy struggling against insurgents and you describe it that way, people might still support you. If it is a civil war, it is indisputably the case that Americans will say, ‘What are we doing in the middle of a civil war?’ “
In my view it’s all but inevitable (but mistaken) that we will soon be withdrawing our troops from Iraq. No one, however, seems to have told President Bush:
RIGA, Latvia, Nov. 28 — President Bush, rejecting what he called “pessimistic” assessments of his Middle East policy, pledged Tuesday to make necessary changes in Iraq but vowed never to pull out U.S. troops before completing the mission there.
Before flying to Latvia, Bush said in Estonia Tuesday morning that he would press Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a plan to contain the country’s escalating sectarian violence, although he refused to characterize the situation in Iraq as a civil war.
and his vote, as command-in-chief and chief architect of our foreign policy, does count for something. I continue to believe that Republicans will lead the charge to the rear as 2008 approaches. Senator Chuck Hagel is an exemplar of the point-of-view I anticipate.
I see that Rick Moran’s position on the civil war debate is not unlike mine: the entire discussion is an enormous waste of energy, pixels, and ink. I’d much rather debate what our genuine interests are in Iraq and in the region and how we secure them.
I also see some lining up in the region on whether the U. S. should stay or go in Iraq. Ali Khamenei (and, presumably, the Iranian government) thinks it’s absolutely necessary for U. S. forces to leave Iraq:
Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei told visiting Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that US-led forces had to leave Iraq if security was to be restored in the violence-riven country.
“The first step to solve the security issue in Iraq is the exit of the occupiers from this country and leaving the security issues to the people-based Iraqi,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television.
President Olmert of Israel, on the other hand, sees continued U. S. presence as good for security in the region:
“I know all of his (Bush’s) policies are controversial in America. There are some who support his policies in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, and some who do not,” he said.
“I stand with the president because I know that Iraq without Saddam Hussein is so much better for the security and safety of Israel, and all of the neighbors of Israel without any significance to us,” added Olmert, who was speaking in English.
“Thank God for the power and the determination and leadership manifested by President Bush.
I’ve mentioned before that the Saudis think that our withdrawing from Iraq until the situation there is much more stable would be a thoroughgoing disaster.
So, either our allies are our enemies and our enemy our friend or perhaps a withdrawal of forces from Iraq in the foreseeable future deserves a serious re-think.
I see that Jules Crittenden has titled his post on this subject as I did. Great minds, etc. He makes a point in his post that I’d thought of making here: that the situation in Iraq really doesn’t meet the criteria for a civil war. It’s a helluva mess nonetheless and however many Iraqis are dying, it’s far too many.
I see that Sen. John Warner is on the same page as Chuck Hagel.
Yet Another Update
There’s an excellent post at Duck of Minerva the gist of which is that Iraq is obviously in a state of civil war and that the reason for the debate over definitions is actually a debate over the policy implications of Iraq being in a state of civil war. That sounds about right to me.